Summer. We're all outside more. Beaches. Picnics. Hiking. Travelling. It's easy to take "the great outdoors" for granted - everything from the smallest town park to the Grand Canyon.
But we shouldn't. The national parks, city parks, local parks haven't always been there, and may not be in the future. So, for the past 27 years, July has been designated "National Parks and Recreation Month" to shine attention on our land and its importance to the fabric of American life and who we are as a nation.
How can you make sure that there is an outdoors you and the generations that follow you can see, explore and enjoy? There are a tremendous number of ways, some that might surprise you, where you can make a difference for our environment and our land.
To protect and provide services to the nation's parks, the National Park Service began a partnership with groups that were ultimately called "Cooperating Associations," made up of naturalists, historians and other private citizens and starting in 1923 with the Yosemite Museum Association. Today there are 60 Cooperating Associations across the country that raise essential funds and conduct programs in the parks. If you'd like to be more connected to one of our national parks you can find the appropriate association at NPS.gov
Another great way to support the environment is at EarthShare. There, your donation will go to environmental organizations that support healthy landscapes and wildlife as well as clean air and clean water. EarthShare helps 71 national organizations and hundreds of local groups in 22 states by working with employers to create employee engagement programs and giving campaigns, and they've raised more than $300 million. Recognizing that we all make sure the organizations we donate to use our donations wisely, every organization that receives EarthShare support must meet responsible spending standards.
There are also hundreds of environmental organizations you can find on the internet that provide services and support to the land, both wild and cultivated, and native animal populations (the New Mexico Land Conservancy is one example; it has conserved over 100,000 acres of land and has a goal of conserving over 1 million acres). The types of organizations you can support cover a broad spectrum of issues, from the smallest details of keeping parkland open to the public to enhancing the country's national parks programs.
Here are just a few of the many interesting examples that show that caring about the environment can take many forms:
The country's leader in creating city parks and raising money for local conservation, the Trust for Public Land makes sure that there are parks, gardens, and other open air and natural places for the public to enjoy
You can help make the US greener and healthier through the Arbor Day Foundation, founded in 1972 and the largest nonprofit membership organization dedicated to planting trees; their members planted over 8 million trees last year
The American Farmland Trust protects US farmland and ranchland, supports and promotes environmentally sound farming practices and creates programs that make sure that the future is economically sustainable for farmers and ranchers
Keep America Beautiful is a national network founded in 1953 that now numbers over 1,200 organizations; they find solutions to reducing waste, preventing litter and beautifying communities through programs that bring together citizens, businesses and government agencies
An exemplar of biological and cultural diversity, Alaska seemingly has it all - rich wildlands and a bounty of both land-based and marine-based animals; the only public foundation that supports conservation in Alaska is the Alaska Conservation Foundation, founded in 1980 and helping take care of Alaska's wildlands, waterways and wildlife
So you might ask where do I start? How can I make a difference? Here are five tips for making sure the land you care about is healthy for your lifetime and for your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren and that you are making a difference:
1. Go online to find out the names of organizations that run a park or environment that you cherish, and ask them how you can help
2. Make sure you're part of the solution, and not part of the problem, by using public lands with care and leaving them as you found them (yes, even your neighborhood park)
3. Introduce your family to the wonders of the American landscape by taking a vacation that includes parkland where you can picnic, fish, bicycle, hike, canoe, etc; the list goes on and on
4. Remember to follow the posted rules and guidelines when you're visiting parks and other natural environments to insure they exist in the future
5. Don't take parks for granted!
The United States, as we all know, represents home to Native Americans and has for hundreds of years been a new land of opportunity for the many who came to our shores and traveled across to establish new lives. What remains of our landscape requires attention and care and the commitment of many citizens who want to be Making a Difference (M.A.D.). During National Parks and Recreation Month what will you do to be M.A.D. today?